Changes in the education system is the way to stand against social biases : Shivani Malhotra, Partner & Managing Director

"By integrating gender equality as part of the curriculum at school, children will bring about a change in the next generation. It should be taught as a subject where we bring diversity experts, counsellors, and executive coaches into the school level and develop a curriculum." said Shivani Malhotra, Partner & Managing Director, Positive Vibes Consulting

Changes in the education system is the way to stand against social biases : Shivani Malhotra, Partner & Managing Director

This International Women’s Day, Marketing In Asia has come forward to understand from the Women of Today who have gone through struggles, broken all the shackles, and are now in a leading position, what’s their opinion on gender equality in modern today & some ways to bridge those gaps.

In an exclusive interaction with Marketing In Asia on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Shivani Malhotra, Partner & Managing Director, Positive Vibes Consulting Pvt. Ltd, shared her journey of becoming an Entrepreneur, some of the social practices that can bridge gender equality issues & much more.

Please share with us your successful journey of becoming an entrepreneur and the challenges you faced to become one. 

My journey started in 2004 when I passed out of a premier B school. All I dreamed of was a plush office, a nice car, and a good house to live in. All of my dreams materialised! My corporate journey has been good and fulfilling.  

Later in 2016, I decided to try the route of entrepreneurship that always fascinated me. I worked with companies like DCM Shriram, Yum!, and KPMG in the Middle East. This was different since my parents are government officers. My grandfather, however, was a self-made entrepreneur and a very successful one at that. His hard work made his children receive a good education and become successful beings. I, too, wanted to explore the entrepreneurial streak in me as a way to test myself. After all, it is one thing to work in an established company but completely different to actually start your company from scratch. I wanted to see if I had the capability to grow something from scratch, nurture it, and lead it to some stature.  

I have had the blessings of the Almighty and loved ones all that I wanted. The journey was riddled with challenges. One would be lying if they said their entrepreneurial journey was without any difficulty. Challenges, after all, are a part of all walks of life, whether personal or professional.  

When working in the corporate sector, I was in a very senior position where I didn’t need to make pitches. However, as an entrepreneur, I made pitches and sought work. The people in my company knew me, but the world didn’t. I regretted not networking as I started reaching out to more people as part of a start-up.  Networking is a very big need these days; it’s no longer considered a good skill to possess. It’s a must-have skill. 

Since Government has taken a lot of initiatives for women empowerment, what are some of the social beliefs that need changes in higher education, business opportunities, and high responsibility positions? 

The initiatives taken by the government for women or gender-specific opportunities, in general, is a positive step. In the corporate world, organisations are doing good work regarding gender diversity and inclusion. Today organisations are trying to give women a fair chance to take up senior leadership positions. Of course, certain organisations still follow gender bias, but the percentage of them is decreasing. In most organisations, if there is a capable woman candidate, she would run to the top position. You would hear a lot of women leaders affirming that things are improving.  

We don’t see women in the boardroom because women quit in between due to family issues. You can’t really blame an organisation for that. It’s the system; it’s the eco-system the lady is working in, making her leave. These problems do not crop up in the West. Why don’t they crop up in the West? This is because households in the West have all members that are employed. It’ll be very difficult to sustain the kind of lifestyle you want if both partners don’t work. The ecosystem is so good that you don’t have to worry about children being in daycare centres. Everybody puts their children into nurseries or daycare. They’re well regulated; there are provisions in place to oversee whether safety and hygiene standards are met. As a parent, you are at comfort.  

Companies are supposed to provide creches for their employees’ children. But how many companies are actually adhering to it in India? The point is, till the time you don’t get that ecosystem around you, you are not at comfort. In India, the concept of leaving your child in daycare is not accepted widely for multiple reasons. One, parents themselves are sceptical and two, it is still not very comfortable. The reason often is because society judges the mother unfairly. She is often labelled selfish or too career-oriented or worse an unfit mother.  

At my home in Chandigarh, I sometimes overhear conversations where the woman is expected to make a sacrifice. There are very few men that would sacrifice their jobs or career to turn stay-at-home dads.  

What in the education model can make everyone more accommodating? What should be taught to our children about Gender Equality? 

With the change in education policy, life skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, innovative problem solving and communication are being implemented. So why not introduce gender equality as a life skill that needs to be instilled? When an education system challenges defined biases, it teaches children that both the parents are equal in all aspects and that there shouldn’t be any differential treatment. By integrating gender equality as part of the curriculum at school, children will bring about a change in the next generation. It should be taught as a subject where we bring diversity experts, counsellors, and executive coaches into the school level and develop a curriculum. Bookish knowledge alone is not enough; it will take a lot of institutionalisation at that level. 

Are gender gaps still  too obvious? If yes, what are some of those areas, and why do you think it's not bridged yet? 

Honestly, I didn’t face any gender issues because I come from a family with a lot of support. My spouse, parents and in-laws supported me. Everybody pitched in and helped me in this journey. However, it’s not the same for everyone. I’ve seen women struggling at their businesses and jobs. Even in the urban population, there are biases where people are more educated. There are deep-rooted beliefs of gender-based work. I had female colleagues who’d reach the office by 9 am after completing all of their housework.  

If they stayed with in-laws at home, they had to ensure enough food for them. This included waking up at 5 am, cleaning the house, cooking and packing tiffin for everybody. This role bias is still prevalent in major parts of our society.  

People believe that women can have a career but running their household is their responsibility too. Whereas men, the socially recognised breadwinner, gets away with not helping out around the house. In most cases, it's not even expected of him. I think that’s the biggest bias in today’s society, and it really needs to change. It shouldn’t be shameful that the man changes diapers or does the dishes. It has to be an equal partnership. If a woman can go out and earn (and some women earn much more than men in so many households), what's wrong with men sharing chores?  It's a mindset that is still accepted as normal in a lot of families and the brunt has to be borne by women, unfortunately.  

What could be some of the social practices that can bridge the gender equality issues from the grass-root level, and what change do you think it can bring to society & the workplaces? 

Women should learn to stand up for themselves. I think, though, the larger issue is that our education system does not focus on instilling the right life skills into the children. While we have a new education policy that talks about life skills and schools are implementing it, gender equality is not a life skill taught in schools. And that is THE most important life skill because learning starts from early childhood. The way a child sees a mother working at home and how she is treated is the way they are conditioned to believe and accept their reality. Men often want a working wife, but believe that the responsibility of looking after the house is hers’ alone because that is what he saw growing up.  There is a fundamental need in the education system to change this mindset. And that can happen only if it is introduced at the school level. It is difficult to break biases once we become conditioned to a certain process  

Ancient Indian history was all about empowered women. Even Gods have an equal share of both genders. What do you think is needed for women of today to recalibrate to new demands and remain empowered?

It’s all about challenging the stereotype. More needs to be done not by the women alone, but by society and men at large. A woman might be very clear about what she wants, but support is needed to bring about a change. A lot of women have to give up their careers because of family pressure or work pressure. Here’s an example: An ex-colleague from a very conservative family from a tier 2 or 3 city has a special needs child. At home, she’s blamed for giving birth to a special needs child. Can you believe that? But the husband is not blamed at all. For such a woman, how can she discuss leaving her child and joining work when she is being punished for something she had no say over? The point I am trying to make is that more than the woman, a change in the mindset of men and society is needed.  

That’s why I go back to the system. Women and organisations to some extent can stand against social biases. However, if you really want a solution, it has to start from a young age. The answer is that the education system is the only way we can improve the situation, at least for future generations to come. Otherwise, these issues will continue even in the next generations. 20-25 years from now, somebody like me will be interviewing with somebody else like you and we’ll have the same kind of issues at hand. If we can’t do anything for this generation, let’s at least make the future generations open to these words called, ‘gender equality’ and ‘gender diversity.’ 

Another thing is that we should actually be educating our girls to stand up for what is right and wrong. In our generation, if we look back, the questioning and the amount of standing up is much more than what it was in our mother’s time. So change is happening for sure, but more needs to be done. All I am saying is, while we teach our girls to stand up to right or wrong, we need to educate our sons as well. That it’s okay to be questioned and it is alright not to expect gender-defined roles when you get married.  

What is your pledge for a #AGenderEqualWorld?  

My pledge for #AGenderEqualWorld is a quote I will take from Gloria Steinem, who is a very well-known American author and a feminist. “A gender-equal society will be the one where the word gender does not exist. Where everyone else can be themselves.” I completely resonate with this thought and this is what we should aim to reach. We’ll get there, but it’s going to take hard work to get there. But let's at least begin the journey.

Also read: Financial independence and financial literacy is to key to address gender gap at grass root level - Shriti Pandey, Founder, Strawcture Eco